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X Factor: A Quest for Excellence


George Plimpton is embarrassed. The noted amateur of odd sporting experience has lost one horseshoe match to George Bush, a match that was as much a test of wills as of skills. Now Bush has invited him back for a rematch. How to avoid humiliation the second time? What is that quality - we'll call it the X Factor - that all winners, from famous athletes to successful CEOs, seem to possess? Plimpton sets out to find it. The quest for this elusive ingredient is both hilarious and informative, leading from the locker...
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1990 Hard cover New in very good dust jacket. BOOK AS NEW, DJ 2 SMALL TAPED TEARS, ELSE VERY NEAR NEW Sewn binding. Paper over boards. 85 p. Larger Agenda Series. Audience: ... General/trade. Read more Show Less

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George Plimpton is embarrassed. The noted amateur of odd sporting experience has lost one horseshoe match to George Bush, a match that was as much a test of wills as of skills. Now Bush has invited him back for a rematch. How to avoid humiliation the second time? What is that quality - we'll call it the X Factor - that all winners, from famous athletes to successful CEOs, seem to possess? Plimpton sets out to find it. The quest for this elusive ingredient is both hilarious and informative, leading from the locker room to the boardroom, with several strange stops in between. Plimpton corners superstars like Bill Russell and Billie Jean King, famous coaches, the chairman of American Express, sports doctors, and M & A king Henry Kravis, and puts the same question to all of them: What is it that allows an individual, or a team, to outperform competitors who are no less gifted, mentally and physically? Their answers run the gamut from motivational rage to new-age meditation, and Plimpton slowly pieces together a definition of this mysterious winning quality.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The first section of this book is as entertaining as anything Plimpton (Out of My League) has written. His loss at horseshoes to then-President George Bush prompted him to prepare for a promised rematch by investigating the X factor, aka the will to win, the killer instinct, etc. He interviewed star athletes and CEOs to find out what ingredients bring success when one is competing against others at least as accomplished as oneself. Plimpton contends that the winning factors include focus, toughness, persistence and a suspension of the intellect. The latter part of the book, in which the author visits Camp David with his son for the return engagement and loses abysmally, turns into an encomium for Bush and his extended family. Plimpton portrays him as a wonderful husband, father and grandfather and an especially considerate individual, and suggests that his defeat in the 1992 presidential election does not diminish Bush as ``an avatar of the X Factor.'' (Mar.)
Library Journal
Plimpton's noted penchant for living out his fantasies on the athletic field (retold in such accounts as Paper Lion, 1966) has led him to reflect on that elusive element that separates winners from losers. Through a series of conversations with prominent athletes, coaches, business executives, and even a former president (much is made of Plimpton's two horseshoe matches with George Bush), he attempts to pinpoint the ingredient that enables them to overcome their competitors. Not unexpectedly, it turns out to be a combination of qualities (confidence, concentration, maturity, sense of purpose, and more) rather than any single factor. In the main, this work is of ephemeral interest and can be considered an optional purchase for popular collections. Indeed, the book will likely be of more interest to fans of fine prose than to sports aficionados. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 11/15/94.]-William H. Hoffman, Ft. Myers-Lee Cty. P.L., Fla.
Wes Lukowsky
George Plimpton has spent his career as writer, editor, and sports dilettante asking why--as in, Why not play quarterback for the Detroit Lions? Here the question is, Why are some people so successful? Is there a common thread that links the great politicians, the great athletes, and the visionary business leaders? Plimpton dubs it the X factor and sets about trying to find it. The project started with George Bush, the subject of a profile Plimpton wrote for "Sports Illustrated". When the then-president prevailed in a game of horseshoes, Plimpton concluded that Bush had the X factor; his plan was to find out what X was, get some himself, and then challenge Bush to a rematch. Hot on the trail, Plimpton talked with several Vince Lombardiera Green Bay Packers; with Red Auerbach, the mastermind of the Boston Celtics; and with Henry Kravis, the financial mogul who engineered the $25 billion takeover of R. J. Reynolds. Ultimately, Plimpton is never really able to identify the X factor, only to note that it's different for people in different situations. And the rematch with Bush? A good reviewer never reveals the ending, but for Plimpton and for the reader, this journey in search of X, like most journeys, proves more valuable for the process than the product. A light but informative look at an intriguing topic
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780962474545
  • Publisher: Whittle Communications
  • Publication date: 8/1/1990
  • Series: Larger Agenda Series
  • Pages: 88

Meet the Author

George Plimpton
One of the 20th century's most beloved literary figures, Manhattan blueblood George Plimpton was the cofounder and longtime editor of The Paris Review and the originator of "participatory journalism," a literary style that plunged the writer into Walter Mitty-like arenas and translated those experiences into literature. Among his bestselling books are Out of My League, Paper Lion, and Edie: An American Biography.


The scion of New England bluebloods who traced their ancestry back to the Mayflower, affable WASP George Plimpton was one of the 20th century's most beloved literary figures. Raised in Manhattan and educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, Harvard University, and King's College, Cambridge, Plimpton co-founded The Paris Review in 1953 and served as its editor and guiding light for the next half century. Under his stewardship, the journal became a showcase for serious fiction and poetry by new and emerging writers. It also introduced a new style of author interview emphasizing the creative process and the writer's craft. Called by Salman Rushdie "the finest available inquiry into the 'how' of literature," the Paris Review interview remains an integral part of the magazine.

In addition to these highbrow pursuits, Plimpton is also responsible for originating a popular literary genre. Gregarious and adventurous by nature, he followed his intellectual curiosity into Walter Mitty-like arenas, then chronicled his exploits—most of them noble failures—in works that came to be categorized as "participatory journalism." He sparred with heavyweight champ Archie Moore, pitched in an all-star exhibition baseball game, played percussion for the New York Philharmonic, and tried out for the circus. And although he was famous for lighthearted reportage (most notably Paper Lion, his sidesplitting 1966 account of training with the Detroit Lions football team), he proved his literary chops with well-received oral biographies of Edie Sedgwick and Truman Capote.

Instantly recognizable for his tall, lanky frame and upper-crust Brahmin accent, Plimpton was a popular fixture of the Manhattan literary and social scene. Upon his death in September, 2003, The New York Times recalled his "boundless energy and perpetual bonhomie." Five years later, Random House published George, Being George, an affectionate oral biography composed of anecdotes from more than 200 people who knew Plimpton in his many capacities. Editor and longtime Paris Review colleague Nelson Aldrich described the book as a "kind of literary party, George's last."

Good To Know

Like his grandfather and father before him, Plimpton enrolled in the prestigious New Hampshire prep school, Phillips Exeter Academy. He spent most of his time either in detention or on probation, and was finally expelled several months shy of graduation. The family was chagrinned, and Plimpton spent many years trying to atone for his failure. By the way, he graduated right on schedule from Daytona Beach High School!

Plimpton loved athletics, and much of the "participatory journalism" for which he's famous revolves around sports. He wrote books about his less-than-successful exploits in professional baseball (Out of My League), football (Paper Lion; Mad Ducks and Bears), golf (The Bogey Man), and hockey (Open Net).

He also loved fireworks and spent a lot of time with the Grucci family, whose Long Island-based company produced spectacular displays. He chronicled his longtime passion in the 1984 book Fireworks, and Mayor John Lindsay appointed him Fireworks Commissioner of New York, an unofficial title totally unrelated to government.

Plimpton made occasional forays into film, usually as an extra or in cameo appearances as himself.

A longtime friend of the Kennedy clan, Plimpton was with Bobby Kennedy in 1968 when the presidential candidate was assassinated. He also was in Norman Mailer's apartment the night the writer stabbed his wife.

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    1. Date of Birth:
      March 18, 1927
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, NY
    1. Date of Death:
      September 25, 2003
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, NY
    1. Education:
      B.A. in English Literature, Harvard University, 1950; Master's degree, Cambridge University, 1952

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